New paper: Pupillary responses to affective words in bilinguals’ first versus second language

Toivo, W., & Scheepers, C. (2019). Pupillary responses to affective words in bilinguals’ first versus second language. PLoS ONE, 14(4), e0210450, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0210450.

Abstract Late bilinguals often report less emotional involvement in their second language, a phenomenon called reduced emotional resonance in L2. The present study measured pupil dilation in response to high- versus low-arousing words (e.g., riot vs. swamp) in German-English and Finnish-English late bilinguals, both in their first and in their second language. A third sample of English monolingual speakers (tested only in English) served as a control group. To improve on previous research, we controlled for lexical confounds such as length, frequency, emotional valence, and abstractness–both within and across languages. Results showed no appreciable differences in post-trial word recognition judgements (98% recognition on average), but reliably stronger pupillary effects of the arousal manipulation when stimuli were presented in participants’ first rather than second language. This supports the notion of reduced emotional resonance in L2. Our findings are unlikely to be due to differences in stimulus-specific control variables or to potential word-recognition difficulties in participants’ second language. Linguistic relatedness between first and second language (German-English vs. Finnish-English) was also not found to have a modulating influence.

Keywords Bilingualism, word processing, emotion, pupillometry